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Port Coquitlam, BC
Anything You Can Dream - We Can Build

By TJ McCueThursday, June 26, 2014
3D Design, CAD, Digital Prototyping, Manufacturing

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Anything you can dream . . . we can build. That is the tagline, motto, mantra for Dynamic Structures in British Columbia and I could not find a more appropriate title to give this post. 

Our timing was impeccable. Craig Breckenridge, who had risen in the ranks from draftsman to Senior Designer during his tenure at Dynamic Structures, a Canadian company specializing in complex mechanical systems and structures, was retiring the next day. It was the last tour under his watch and we were the beneficiaries of over 20 years of experience, job titles, projects and stories crammed into a 3-hour grand tour.

From Craig’s email that advised us to bring safety glasses and steel-toed shoes, including for my 10 year son, I knew that this was no ordinary company tour. The curtain was being pulled aside and we would get to see firsthand how things were made on the production floor.

This was not your typical factory. Yes, things were being made in multiple, but each project was unique. We did not find long “production lines” of workers (in uniforms) doing specific, mundane jobs for a particular product. Nor was anything automated and fully computerized.

Canada France Hawaii Telescope. Courtesy of Dynamic Structures

Everyone was busy, some were testing large mechanical rotating amusement park rides, others on the other side were using blowtorches to build an unseen part. Still others were assembling car size units, all in the same huge warehouse facility. There were a myriad of projects being built side by side in the same building space. Upstairs and across the street were office cubicles full of engineers and designers. Project team members, from design to production – all housed within a 5-minute walk of each other. This was a company who took building with imagination and creativity seriously, and did so efficiently.

History has borne out their slogan: “Anything you can dream . . . we can build.” Started in 1926 as Vancouver Art Metal, the company began building bridges. By the 90’s, due to their expertise in constructing precision engineered steel structures, they had become world-leaders in engineering complex telescope and observatory enclosures for research universities. 15 years ago, when an engineer they worked with on the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea project left to take a job with Disney, he brought them in to solve an “unsolvable” metal fatigue problem with a concept rollercoaster.

So began their remarkable foray into theme and thrill rides for major amusement parks all over the world. Dynamic Attractions was split off into a sister company in 2011 to focus on this market segment, but the two companies remain closely integrated, sharing the same facilities and workforce. Check out some of the YouTube videos below.

Pulling from his long tenure at Dynamic, Craig peppered our tour with great side stories. For example, when they did work on the original monorail, Disney shipped a portion to Dynamic Structures so they could 3D scan it and model various specifications. When they opened the door, a marmot ran out, having hitched a ride from CA. They captured it and sent it back to Disney for relocation. Now they have a picture in the lobby of the new monorail with the marmot in the driver’s seat.

During the Disney Monorail revamp, the team captured technical specifications of existing parts and locale/environment requirements with Faro 3D scanners, designed updated 3D models in Autodesk® Inventor® software, and put them through the paces virtually, marrying on screen, the newly designed parts with the scanned environment to test how it would all work if installed as designed. Given the sheer size and complexity of the ride, physical prototyping would have been difficult. But with the digital prototyping capabilities now available, potential problems were identified and the design tweaked and validated while still on the drawing board, saving time and money.

The success and strength of this company is in its willingness to stretch – to bring to reality, concepts that have never been done. To enable them to do this, they’ve hired incredibly smart people (often right out of college), and have used technology to push the boundaries. While they saw the typical time savings in adopting 3D design software, it was the advances in 3D digital prototyping that really opened the door and enabled them to tackle many of these enormously complex fabrication projects successfully.

Dynamic is also known for pushing the boundaries of all the technology they use—from hardware to software. As early adopters of the Inventor® software, they have been key development partners in the building and testing of new enhancements to the Autodesk® Digital Prototyping solution set. “That was part of the fun we had here,” said Craig, “seeing what we could break in the software.”

Not all software companies rely on their customers (and employees) to provide feedback, test functionality and ultimately influence the future of its products, but Autodesk strongly believes in this, according to Craig. While he jokes about “breaking” the software, he was working hand-in-hand with Autodesk engineers to see how he could push the limits of the software and improve it. Neither side remained idle because the goal of solving problems in the real world of 3D demands constant iteration and improvement.

This drive to be at the forefront of technological advancement has led to an impressive list of “world’s firsts.” Just earlier this month, at the Asian Attractions Expo in Beijing, China, Dynamic Attractions unveiled a new concept robotic rollercoaster, the SFX Coaster, which had been whispered about on rollercoaster internet forums for months. “This ride, with its four new moving technologies, never before experienced by riders” says Craig, “is a paradigm shift for the industry and will change the way rollercoasters are designed and built.”

The future promises much success for this trend-setting company as they forge ahead in new directions. Never one to rest on his laurels, so also goes their newly retired Senior Designer, Craig, who is heading off on a new quest of his own. Utilizing his well-honed problem solving skills, he and his wife are moving to Haiti to tackle its clean water issues.

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